Clemson must replace a lot of offensive production
Looking into the crystal ball for the 2017 ACC season, you see many of the same teams at the top of the food chain.
Programs like Clemson, Florida State and Louisville in the Atlantic Division look to be the favorites again, while Miami and Virginia Tech figure to stand out in the Coastal.
But statistically, even though Clemson returns maybe the best defensive line in college football, its skill positions from its national championship squad are virtually gutted due to graduation and the NFL draft.
Those numbers are just a few, though, of 14 — one for each team in the conference — worth keeping an eye on this fall.
67.8: Average number of plays per game run by the Boston College offense last season
Expect this number to shoot up, as offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler sped up the tempo both in the team's Quick Lane Bowl win over Maryland and in the spring game. Darius Wade took control of the quarterback race in the spring and seemed to have good command of the scheme, so the Eagles, ranked 115th in the nation in plays per game last season, should see an increase there.
74.9/98.5/58.4: Percentage of rushing/passing/receiving yards gone from Clemson's national title-winning team
All of Clemson's top offensive skill position players are gone. Running back Wayne Gallman, quarterback Deshaun Watson and wide receiver Mike Williams have taken their talents to the NFL. That leaves a whole lot of uncertainty on that side of the ball for the Tigers as they look to defend their crown. They have recruited well, so there's no denying they can fill those holes to an extent, but that is no sure thing given the lack of experience.
4.7: Penalties per game committed by Duke last season
The number of penalties committed by a team in any year reflects its discipline and, under head coach David Cutcliffe, that's precisely the type of group that the Blue Devils have been and, frankly, have to be to compete with schools who mostly out-recruit them on a yearly basis. The 4.7 penalties per game placed Duke 20th in the nation.
55.23: Time of possession percentage by Florida State last season
Time of possession percentage measures not how long a team holds on to the ball for, but how that statistic compares against its opponents. By this metric, the Seminoles were one of the top teams in the country last year, as they were first in the ACC and 13th in the nation. With quarterback Deondre Francois and a talented defense returning, expect this number to be strong again this season.
97.4: Percentage of games started over the last three years by since-graduated Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas
The Yellow Jackets return a good number of returning starters on both sides of the ball and can be considered a reasonable dark horse candidate to with the Coastal. However, one big missing piece will be at the quarterback spot, where Thomas only missed one start over the last three seasons. Juniors Matthew Jordan and TaQuon Marshall both have a shot at replacing Thomas, but until then, the position remains a question mark.
54.5: Opponents’ completion percentage allowed by Louisville last season
Concentrate all you want on quarterback Lamar Jackson, and that's fine, given the Heisman Trophy winner will again be in the mix for college football's most prestigious award. But what could put Louisville back in the national title discussion is its defense, which should again be stout in the back seven. That completion percentage was ranked 20th in the nation last year, and with players like cornerback Jaire Alexander returning, that number should be comparable again this fall.
3.1: Average number of fourth-quarter points the Miami defense allowed last season
That number was good for third in the nation last season. While the Hurricanes have to replace their entire secondary, they return six of their starters in the front seven, so the defense should once again be stingy late in games. With a schedule that is very manageable, the program under head coach Mark Richt, which continues to recruit well this cycle, can take another step forward this fall.
32.5: Combined tackles for a loss and sacks by NC State defensive end Bradley Chubb last season
The ACC is rich in NFL talent coming off the edge for this upcoming season, and Chubb is among the group of headliners that also includes last year's college football sack leader, Boston College’s Harold Landry. But Chubb is no slouch himself, as he made 10.5 sacks a year ago to go along with 22 tackles for a loss. Those numbers put him in elite company, and the Wolfpack, who return enough on offense to be a sleeper in the Atlantic, will need Chubb to replicate that kind of production to do so.
42.05: Opponents’ third-down conversion rate against North Carolina last season
Offense does not to really ever seem to be a problem for a Larry Fedora-coached team. However, defensively, the Tar Heels have some work to do before being considered an upper-echelon ACC program. Last year, teams hit on third downs against UNC at a 42.05 rate, which put it at 80th in the country. That number has to improve if the Tar Heels want to take the next step.
42.0: Points per game scored by the Pittsburgh offense last season
The Panthers were sixth in the nation and second in the ACC in racking up points a year ago, but there is a challenge ahead for Pat Narduzzi's program. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada? Gone to LSU. Quarterback Nathan Peterman? Lost to the NFL draft. Running back James Connor? Ditto. So new coordinator Shawn Watson may keep much of the skeleton of the old offense in place, but may have to rely on returning pieces like receiver Quadree Henderson more until the unit comes together.
83.8: Plays per game by the Syracuse offense last season
It's no secret that Syracuse head coach Dino Babers wants to run as fast an offense as possible. Tempo is a word he has preached since coming to central New York last season, so the number of plays the Orange ran last year — good for first in the ACC and seventh in the nation — should garner a similar ranking. Whether or not that turns into more than the four wins the Orange had last year is another issue, but with returning quarterback Eric Dungey starting again, they at least have an experienced triggerman running the show.
1.8: Punts per offensive score by the Virginia offense last season
The Cavaliers had their moments in head coach Bronco Mendenhall's first year in Charlottesville, but the offense had very few of them. Case in point, the number of drives that ended up in punts, which averaged out to be 114th in the nation. Quarterback Kurt Benkert returns, but three offensive linemen and the rest of the backfield must be replaced. In other words, Virginia may get better on offense this season, but it will need to do so without a lot of experience.
1.1: Fumbles lost per game by Virginia Tech last season
By all accounts, head coach Justin Fuente's first season in Blacksburg was a successful one, as he won 10 games and a Coastal Division title. However, the Hokies were able to accomplish all that while giving the ball up at an alarming rate, ranking 127th in the nation in fumbles lost. This is something that can be cleaned up and is the type of thing that doesn't generally repeat itself, so this could result in an extra win or two so long as the inexperienced offense finds its footing early on.
10.47: Sacked percentage by the Wake Forest offense last season
The Demon Deacons simply could not protect the passer a year ago, which was a knock against them in an otherwise successful season where they defeated Temple in the Military Bowl. But Wake returns three of its starting five offensive linemen from a year ago, so the hope is that results in better protection for John Wolford, who returns as the starting quarterback heading into his junior season.
— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.